“I grew up in Tsavo, in Meda-ikwane, (where two rivers meet). It was a paradise. The riparian zone was so healthy. Migrating birds perched on the trees, singing on their journeys from the North to South,” these are the words of Wanjala Mshila-Sio, a founder member of the Tsavo Heritage Foundation.
She continues; “As we washed our uniforms during weekends in the rivers, we would cast our dresses like nets and wish. Food was so plentiful. I did not know these things had a commercial value as everyone else seemed to.”
“The story is a very sad one today. The river is now a gully. The sand has been harvested to the core. Trees felled for charcoal. People are now so poor and desolately hungry. They buy water at Sh45 per 20 litre jerrycan,” she says.
In a nutshell, Mshila passionately paints the picture of the Tsavo, yesterday and today, with its tomorrow looking bleak if the trend of debauchery is let to foster.
Tsavo is a place of lavishing beauty, naturally bestowed diversity which is so alluring and attractive. Defined as the Tsavo Ecosystem and Dispersal Area (TEDA), it is home to vast savannahs, plains, hills and water towers including Chyulu, Taita Hills, Shimba Hills in Kwale and Mount KilImanjaro in Tanzania. It is from these hills that the Mzima Springs, that magical tourist magnet, home to hippos and crocodiles emanate. As is the Lugard’s Falls, Tana, Athi- Galana- Sabaki and Voi Rivers and Lakes Jipe and Chala.
Lake Chala, like Mzima Springs, is also a unique piece of creation. Fed by underground streams from Mt Kilimanjaro, Chala, which straddles the border of Kenya and Tanzania is a crater lake, yes one of its kind which, depending on the time of the year, changes its colour from blue to green to turquoise.
And we have not mentioned the wildlife of this area yet, world famous for the Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. Together, the Parks together, comprise Africa’s largest wilderness reserve which is home to one third of Kenya’s total elephant population.
You will remember the Man Eaters of Tsavo? Well, we need not dwell on that, but you sure get the drift of this historical that Taita Taveta, which is within TEDA has remnants of the First World War? Yes, the first shot that started the East African Campaign was fired from Taveta, remnants of which is War cemeteries in Voi, Maktau and Taveta.
Even the first ever newspaper in Kenya, the Taveta Chronicles, founded in 1895 is from here, as was the second, but the most authoritative, newspaper, The African Standard, today’s The Standard, which started in Mombasa in 1902. We mention Mombasa because the Tsavo Heritage Foundation, which is in a race against time to save the Tsavo because its ecosystem sustains millions of people in 12counties, Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale,Tana River, Lamu, Kajiado, Machakos, Makueni, Kitui, Nairobi, Lamu and of course Taita Taveta.
Fittingly, The Standard, which is celebrating 100 years since its incorporation, which coincides withWW1 centenary, joins in this operation save the Tsavo.
It is the official media sponsor of the World War 1 centenary celebrations geared to raise awareness about battlefield tourism, and at the same time encourage people to plant more trees, and more so, care for them until maturity.
This, says, Jacob Mwaluda, the executive chairman of the Tsavo Heritage Foundation, can only be achieved if there was a reward system, say to schoolchildren, for not only planting trees, but committing to caring for them until maturity.
Speaking of schools, The Standard Group is setting up a Foundation which will promote conservation across the country. In honour of its roots, it is starting off with an Environment, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (E-WASH) campaign which will kick-off in schools in and around Tsavo.
“We are encouraging battlefield tourism, to give the communities in the TEDA an alternative to charcoal burning and sand harvesting,” says Mwaluda.
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“The World War is long gone, but 100 years later, we are facing an even bigger threat, we have decimated TEDA’s water towers, the Chyulu Hills, by 70 percent. The forest cover is gone. We need to do something,” adds Mwaluda.
To raise awareness, the Foundation organizes an annual Tsavo Run, which brings a diverse group of individuals, locals and partners to race and ride to save the Tsavo. This year’s edition willbe on December 8. Register to run or bike in the wild of the Taita Hills Wildlife sanctuary for a good cause, and while at it network and keep fit.
Quoting Barack Obama, Mshila says; ‘’Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting, we are the change that we seek.”